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Face-Off: The Kraken X61, Reserator 3 Max Dual, And NH-D15

Moving Up To LGA 2011-v3

We've been drawing comparisons between closed-loop liquid coolers and socket-mounted heat sinks for years, and the reasons for picking one or the other have grown in proportion to cooler size.

Lower cost, reduced maintenance and improved portability remain the rationale for choosing a closed-loop solution instead of custom-installed liquid coolers. But even after consigning open-loop liquid to the most hardcore enthusiasts, we must concede that closed-loop kits face some of the same obstacles. Systems sporting large heat sinks also reduce cost and increase longevity compared to closed-loop liquid, and longevity can also be considered an eventual maintenance issue.

It might seem, then, that big heat sinks win the debate before we even start testing, and that closed-loop coolers need to significantly outperform big heat sinks in order to justify their existence. Yet, most of our tests conclude that there’s no performance gain in adding a pump to your cooling system when the radiator is no larger than the heat sink it replaces. Why would anyone even bother with closed loops, then?

A look at today’s contenders reveals at least two of those answers!

CPU Cooler Features
Air Cooler SpecificationsNoctua NH-D15Liquid Cooler SpecificationsNZXT Kraken X61Zalman Reserator -3 Max Dual
Height6.4"Thickness1.1" (2.2" w/fans)3" (Combined)
Width6.0"Width5.5"5.5" w/Brackets
Depth5.3" (6.4" w/fan)Depth12.3"10.8"
Base Height1.7"Pump Height1.3"1.5"
Assy. OffsetNone (1.1" w/fan)ControllerSoftwareNone
Cooling Fans(2) 150 x 25mmCooling Fans(2) 140 x25mm(2) 120 x 25mm
Connectors(2) 4-PinConnectorsUSB/SATA/3-PIN1x 4-Pin, 1x 3-Pin
Weight48 OuncesWeight45 Ounces48 Ounces
Intel Sockets115x, 2011Intel Sockets115x, 2011, 1366115x, 2011, 1366
AMD Sockets4-bolt RectangularAMD Sockets4-bolt Rectangular4-bolt Rectangular
WarrantySix YearsWarrantySix YearsOne Year
Web Price$95Web Price$140$140

Who would hang a three-pound cooler off their processor interface, knowing that it’s going to turn into a wrecking ball as soon as the machine gets shipped somewhere? We’ve seen smaller coolers than these break off from the motherboard, smashing surrounding components. That’s a lot of equipment to lose.

And then there’s the matter of clearance. System builder and graphics guru Don Woligroski was forced to take a hacksaw to his high-end memory in order to fit a big CPU cooler into his System Builder Marathon machine. That move earned him the temporary title Hacksaw Don, and the fact that I actually specified DIMM clearance (base height, thickness and assembly offset) in my review of the cooler he used erased any sympathy he might have otherwise garnered.

The only reason we often see “big air” in our System Builder Marathon configurations is because it’s cheaper. Whenever large heat sinks are big enough to outperform closed-loop liquid, we’re left warning readers that their PCs must be handled gingerly. We’ve even been forced to disassemble our completed boxes prior to shipping after one of our winners fell victim to the wrecking-ball effect on a cooler less than half this size.

All of this means that a performance win by Noctua’s NH-D15 would necessitate a flurry of caveats in our final recommendations. NZXT and Zalman better step up!

  • tom10167
    Nice article, though the NH-D14 at only $75 seems like the best value.
    Reply
  • F0lterknecht
    Would have liked to see the numbers for push/pull on the AIOs :-(

    Take 4 reference coolers and you can stick 2 of them to the NH-D15 to keep the noise measurements fair ... .
    Reply
  • F0lterknecht
    I mean 4 fans ofc
    Reply
  • F0lterknecht
    I mean 4 fans ofc
    Reply
  • op8
    which is why I always use test bench style cases so you dont have to worry about warping during transport.
    Reply
  • Amdlova
    put another Fans on the noctua and blow away those water coolers. Noctua make good products. And you never will move your cage with this heavy weight 760T If wanna move something you will spend money on Alluminium (silver stone, lian li, etc).

    1 kg of cooler for 12kg of corsair monster.
    Reply
  • op8
    which is why I always use test bench style cases so you dont have to worry about warping during transport.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    14769014 said:
    put another Fans on the noctua and blow away those water coolers. Noctua make good products. And you never will move your cage with this heavy weight 760T If wanna move something you will spend money on Alluminium (silver stone, lian li, etc).

    1 kg of cooler for 12kg of corsair monster.

    It weighs less than the Aluminium case to which is was compared:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/atx-pc-cases-caselabs-merlin-sm8-corsair-graphite-760t-thermaltake-urban-t81,3865.html

    Reply
  • middlemarkal
    where is the thermaltake ultimate ?
    Reply
  • envy14tpe
    Not a fan of liquid cooling but results like these are getting me to come around. However, the noise and price are the last two things that need to be fixed.

    I mean Corsair's top coolers, H100i or H105, are getting fans replaced which adds $$$. I'd rather put more money into the mobo or consider a custom loop at that point. Really wish the H100i was included in trial. None the less, keep up the great articles.
    Reply